By Michael Lanza
Do you need an ultralight backpack? Many backpackers might answer “no” when, for many reasons, their answer should logically be “yes.” These packs aren’t just for thru-hikers. Typically weighing roughly between under two pounds and three pounds empty, ultralight packs have support for carrying 25 to 35 pounds—making them ideal for more than just ultralight backpacking. For many backpackers, that represents the range of pack weight they either carry on most trips—or could carry on most trips, with smart packing and reasonably light gear.
In other words, an ultralight pack just may be perfect for you. And this article covers the best ones out there today. My picks are based on extensive field testing of many packs of all types over more than 25 years of reviewing gear, including the 10 years I spent as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.
As I wrote in my “5 Expert Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack,” when backpacking ultralight or lightweight—which describes probably about 75 percent of my backpacking trips—I want a backpack with low weight and minimal features like pockets and zippers, because I just don’t need more than that. Still, I like the convenience of quick access for some items, like a lid pocket or, more often, side and hipbelt pockets for snacks, map, sunglasses, and sunblock, plus a large front pocket where I can stuff items like a jacket.
The pack you choose will depend on personal preferences regarding design features, price, weight, and capacity.
Ultralight Packs Defined
Some ultralight backpackers assert that only packs weighing under about two pounds empty are truly ultralight packs. (Some of the comments at the bottom of this story delve into that.) The semantic argument aside, packs that light are generally frameless. I have used frameless packs from various brands that employ the same basic design, including on a seven-day thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, when we had our base pack weight (everything but food and water) under 15 pounds.
Frameless packs are very minimalist, with a comfortable carrying capacity of about 20 to 25 pounds at best, and that assumes the user is very diligent about loading the pack to achieve optimal distribution of weight. A frameless pack with a lightly padded hipbelt that also lacks structure does not support weight; the pack essentially hangs off your back, requiring your back and shoulders to bear the weight.
I prefer ultralight packs with some kind of frame structure, like those in this review, because they distribute the pack’s weight in a way that your body can carry more comfortably for hours on the trail, day after day. A frame helps shift most pack weight onto your hips, which is far more comfortable than having weight hang off your shoulders. I think many people would notice the difference, especially with more than 20 pounds in the pack. In fact, even hiking daypacks designed for carrying more than 15 pounds have a frame.
Reviewed below are several backpacks that stand out in this category. Click on any pack name (or photo) to purchase that pack; those are affiliate links that support this blog at no cost to you, so thank you for making any purchases at those links. The capsule reviews below also link to full reviews of these packs, which also contain affiliate links.
Please share your comments or questions about them, or suggestions for your own favorite ultralight pack, in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.
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The men’s Osprey Exos 58 ($260, 2 lbs. 14 oz.) or Exos 48 ($240, 2 lbs. 12 oz.), and the women’s Eja 58 and Eja 48, have long ranked among the best ultralight backpacks. I’ve used and liked the Exos 58 a lot since it first came out in 2008, including on a four-day, 86-mile backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park, a weeklong hut trek in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, and on a six-day, 94-mile hike through Glacier National Park. Most recently, I took the 2022 update of the Exos 58—most significantly, the updated Exos and Eja now have adjustable fit in two sizes each—on a nine-day, nearly 130-mile hike through the High Sierra, mostly on the John Muir Trail with some on- and off-trail detours.
The top-loading Exos and Eja carry 30 to 35 pounds comfortably thanks to Osprey’s LightWire perimeter frame, which transfers much of the pack weight onto your hips, where you want it, and they have the capacity for weeklong trips and ultralight thru-hiking—I started our High Sierra trip with 18 pounds of food and carried it on days ranging up to 19.5 miles and over 8,600 vertical feet of elevation gain and loss and finished every day impressed with how good the pack felt.. The trampoline-style back panel permits cooling air circulation. At just under three pounds, they have smart features like good compression, a removable lid, six exterior pockets, and a handy trekking poles attachment on the left shoulder strap.
Read my review of the updated-for-2022 Osprey Exos 58 and Eja 58.
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The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider ($379, 1 lb. 15 oz.), which I’ve used on two different trips in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, including seven days on the Wind River High Route, and other outings, weighs just two pounds, has removable aluminum stays and a harness system that I found comfortable carrying 30 to 35 pounds, and is made with waterproof (and practically bulletproof) Dyneema fabric.
Its minimalist design features three roomy, exterior mesh pockets and zippered hipbelt pockets, and a roll-top closure with top and side compression for stabilizing under-filled loads. For its weight, it offers unique carrying comfort—thanks in part to coming in four fixed sizes—and capacity for long trips.
Read my complete review of the 3400 Windrider.
After hauling the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 ($285, 1 lb. 14 oz. for medium pack with small belt) on late-summer, multi-day hikes in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness, I’ve come to understand why I’ve seen this pack on the backs of so many ultralighters: It sports much of what you’d want in an ultralight backpack with hardly a flaw.
It has more capacity than many two-pound packs, including seven roomy external pockets, most of them made with more-durable fabric than mesh. A top-loader with a roll-top closure that clips with two straps to the pack’s front side, the Mariposa has abundant space for five to seven days—and conceivably more—of food and three-season, lightweight gear, including a full-size bear canister (inserted upright; it will not fit horizontally). It has a removable, U-shaped internal stay that gives the pack the support and comfort for carrying 25 to 30 pounds—and perhaps up to 35 pounds for some backpackers—and comes in three unisex pack and interchangeable hipbelt sizes.
Read my complete review of the Mariposa 60.
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The Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and 45+5 SL packs ($250, 50L/3,051 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz. for the Ultra 45+5) distinguish themselves for their comfortable fit—among the lightest packs with torso adjustability—and smart design details. I found it comfortable with up to about 35 pounds inside on a five-day hike in the Wind River Range, thanks in part to the three-dimensional layers of perforated spacer mesh in the back panel, lumbar pad, shoulder straps, and hipbelt, which pulls air into the mesh as you move—delivering nice ventilation and cushioning—a bit of structure in the hipbelt, and some rotation built into the shoulder straps. This top-loader has a spacious main compartment, six external pockets including a large stretch-mesh front pocket as well as side and hipbelt pockets, plus durable, 200-denier polyamide fabric.
Read my complete review of the Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and 45+5 SL.
The Gregory men’s Focal 58 and women’s Facet 55 ($250, 2 lbs. 11 oz.), and the smaller Focal 48 and Facet 45 ($230), are designed for backpackers who are willing to accept a reasonable weight penalty for some organizational features of traditional backpacks and the support to carry up to 35 pounds. I found the Focal 58 comfortable carrying 35 pounds on strenuous days up to 12 miles with over 7,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss—including seven very steep off-trail miles—backpacking for six days in the Grand Canyon.
These packs sport six external pockets, including two on the hipbelt and a large, stretch-mesh front pocket, and useful features like good compression and attachments for trekking poles or an ice axe. Gregory’s attention to comfort in its ultralight backpack is evident in the aluminum perimeter wire frame with a fiberglass cross-stay and an HDPE framesheet that lend the pack substantial rigidity, distributing most of the load across the hips. The tensioned, ventilated back panel allows air movement across your sweaty back. And they’re made with recycled fabrics and come in three non-adjustable sizes for men and women.
Read my review of the Gregory Focal 58 and Facet 55.
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The Mountainsmith Zerk 40 ($220, 1 lb. 13 oz.) suited my needs quite well trekking hut to hut for six days on Iceland’s Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails—and I think much about the Zerk will also appeal to many ultralighters and thru-hikers. It takes a common template of ultralight packs—roll-top, frameless, spacious external pockets—and juices it with smart details and add-ons, tougher materials, and a touch of modularity, starting with nine external pockets, all but one within easy reach wearing the pack.
The Zerk’s wide foam shoulder straps take a page from trail running-hydration vests, improving comfort; and each has four pockets with adequate space for a phone, flexible bottles, and energy snacks. It carries about 30 pounds, with a removable foam back pad, has tough, recycled fabric, and comes with a bungee and an accessory strap for attaching a tent or bear canister atop the full pack. Two drawbacks: At 40 liters (fully extended), it has less capacity than some sub-two-pound packs; you must be a committed ultralighter. And it comes in one unisex size.
Read my review of the Mountainsmith Zerk 40.
The signature feature of the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 ($220, 2 lbs. 9 oz.) is a compression system that allows you to alter the pack’s capacity to fit whatever you’re carrying, making it more stable with a small load. I took it on a trip where a pack with that capacity range would come in handy: on a nine-day hike on the Tour du Mont Blanc, where on some days I’d be carrying two people’s stuff and on other days only my own. It’s heavier than others (though still a legitimate ultralight backpack), but I’ve found it comfortable hauling 30 to 35 pounds, thanks in part to a sturdier (though still streamlined) hipbelt than is found in some ultralight packs. It has quick, one-zipper access to the main compartment, and five external pockets (lid, side, and hipbelt).
Read my review of the Flex Capacitor 40-60.
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The men’s and women’s REI Flash 55 ($199, 2 lbs. 10 oz.) is not only a steal, but it sports nice design features for ultralight backpacking, including a rolltop closure, six external pockets, customizable compression straps, and removable features to trim several ounces. A steel, internal perimeter frame plus a contoured hipbelt made it comfortable carrying up to 30 pounds on a 40-mile hike in Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness.
Read my complete review of the Flash 45.
The ULA Circuit ($280) weighs in at 2 lbs. 4.6 oz., but it’s spacious at 68 liters, and its roll-top closure extends farther than many competitors, giving you more capacity when needed. With a carbon fiber and Delrin suspension, a dense foam frame and an aluminum stay, it will carry up to 35 pounds, and the hipbelt and shoulder straps come in multiple sizes for customizing the fit for men or women and customizable features like embroidering your trail name on it. ULA’s 400 Robic fabric is highly durable, and the pack has a huge external front pocket.
Depending on how much weight you intend to carry, there are three other, more-versatile backpacks that weigh just a few ounces more than some of these, yet carry more weight comfortably and have more features: the Granite Gear Perimeter 50 (read my review), Granite Gear Blaze 60 (read my review) and The North Face Banchee 50 (read my review).
See all backpack reviews and my picks for the 10 best packs for backpacking, including models that range from around three-and-a-half pounds to five pounds. See also my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack,” “Video: How to Load a Backpack,” all reviews of backpacking gear and ultralight backpacking gear, and my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for numerous stories with my picks for best gear and tips on buying gear.
And don’t miss my popular reviews of “25 Essential Backpacking Gear Accessories” and “The Best Backpacking Gear” of the year.
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
47 thoughts on “The Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2023”
I’m blown away that so many of these reviews leave out the Six Moon Designs packs. They are very similar to the Zerk, Circuit, and GG Gorilla at a great price point with some unique features like the a running vest style harness option. Plus they are about the only ultralight pack out there with truly adjustable shoulder positioning
Thanks for the suggestion, Ian. Six Moon Designs is definitely on my list of packs to try out.
Just purchased the REI flash 55 . I love the forward water bottle pouches on the pack which make it possible for me to reach them without taking the pack off or becoming contortionist. I would like to see REI add actual pockets on the shoulder straps or daisy chains but otherwise a great pack.
Thanks for sharing that assessment, Kerri. Enjoy the pack.
I’m considering one of the light & ultralight packs, and from your list I was looking at Exos and Mariposa. Exos looks good, except for those side compression straps. I think they will obstruct side pockets, what was your experience? Mariposa is pricy, and I don’t know how good is the ventilation on your back. Except for these ones, Minimalist V2 and Crown 3 60L look interesting, do you have some experience with them?
It would be great if you quote measurements in metric system too, it would be much easier for some of us to follow your posts.
While the side compression straps on the Osprey Exos form a Z-compression that crosses over the side mesh pockets, I found that in no way obstructs the pockets: You simply adjust the side compression to allow space for a bottle or whatever you’re placing inside the pocket. As noted in my full review of the Exos, it’s easy to reach inside the pockets while wearing the pack.
The full review of the ExosGossamer Gear Mariposa 60 is just $25 more than the Exos 58 and while it doesn’t carry quite as much weight as the Exos 58, it is a full pound lighter. There’s a clear distinction between the packs primarily in that regard, as well as different organization and features.
Thanks for your suggestion about metric specs, I like it. Good luck.
Any info on zpack
I haven’t yet reviewed one of the Zpacks models but I have my eye on that brand.
I would also check out and research
All good suggestions, thanks Kyle, and I’ll note the story recommends the classic Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60, which I’ll post a full review of soon.
Hi Mike, I ordered the Hyperlight as well as the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50. I decided to go with the Hyperlite because I liked the fit better–strictly a personal preference, although I was concerned about how well the sit pad/backpad on the Gossamer would allow my back to ventilate.
I took the pack out on a 13ish-mile out and back, including a sketchy off-trail scramble up a pass and back down the other side. Pack was loaded to about 25 lbs., including everything… water, food, etc. I thought it carried GREAT. No less comfortable than any other pack I’ve owned. More comf than some.
I don’t miss having a brain, especially since the hip pockets are so generously sized, and the mesh side pockets are great. The hip belt has a lot of structure / rigidity, which kept the load from sliding down and kept things comfy as well. I was concerned about getting a Nalgene in and out of the side pocket. This is due to the top of the pocket coming up quite high on the pack’s side, but I found that if I pull out of the left shoulder strap after undoing the hipbelt and sternum strap, I can do it. Not a big deal for me.
I do like the fact that once I can access it the pocket is loose enough to accommodate the bottle even with the pack stuffed. This compares favorably to a lot of more luxe packs–e.g. Osprey. I also was pleased with the ventilation on my back even though we are in a heat wave.
The back of the pack is rigid enough that it did not smother me, and I think that short vertical footprint (i.e. no lid) contributes to air circulation. I wish there were better lash loops for putting a something (such as an ultralight dinghy in my case) on the bottom of the pack. I am also concerned about the placement of the ice axe loop, being in the center of the base of the pack. I think this will make it difficult to attach an ice axe if there is a good amount of gear in the center mesh pocket, which would not be uncommon when traveling in snowier conditions–e.g. spring.
Thanks for your article!!! It motivated me to upgrade (downgrade?) from my 50 & 70 l Golite packs.
Hey Tom, thanks for the detailed report, that’s excellent. I’m glad you like the Hyperlite pack. I do agree with your overall assessment, including the carrying comfort and features; and using a bladder, I don’t mind if a bottle is impossible to extract from a side pocket when wearing a pack.
Now enjoy getting out to use it more!
Great article. I am curious how you handle water (water bottles or bladder systems) with ultralight packs (this can be an issue with all packs I suppose). I see a variety of bottles in the photos in this article. I currently have the Hyperlite 3400 Windrider and the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50. I like to use the standard 1 liter Nalgene bottles (which are only 3 ounces each of you don’t mind the softer opaque ones), but I am flexible. I can get one of these in and out of the side pocket of the Gossamer Gear, even though it is a bit of a struggle. There is no way I can get a bottle into the side pocket of the Hyperlite.
I think even a smaller, thinner bottle would be a real struggle for me due to how high the netting/pocket comes up on the side of the pack. It seems like the manufacturers/designers could do a better job with this, or, if they are designing the pack with a particular bottle or bladder in mind, then maybe they should let buyers know about. Curious about how you approach all this.
BTW, bladder systems seem kind of antithetical to ultralight to me. I like to use Aquamira when I am really shaving ounces.
I’m sure your observations about getting bottles in and out of side pockets while wearing the pack ring true for many people. Sometimes it’s partly how a pack fits your torso, but with some packs, the side pocket position makes it impossible for most people to reach it with the pack on. It may be a little more common with smaller and lighter packs because they’re often closer to your body, but I’ve seen that in larger packs, too. With smaller and ultralight packs, especially, when the pack’s loaded to the hilt, it may push into a side pocket’s volume capacity and make it harder to fit anything into it.
I usually use a bladder, which eliminates the problem of the side pockets. I like to have a bottle to drink out of in camp; the bottle in my pack’s side pocket may be empty while hiking. When backpacking in a place with frequent water sources, I like to carry a filter bottle like the Lifestraw Go, which I cover in this review; its convenience enables me to carry very little water weight.
I hope that’s helpful.
Thanks for the reply. I’m curious what bladder system you recommend? I haven’t looked at one for years but they seemed kind of clunky at one time. I’m also curious about how you would fill one up from a very shallow water source
Check out the bladders I recommend in this review (scroll down).
You need a hard-sided water bottle like a Nalgene to scoop water from a shallow pool, just like you would from a lake (because a soft/collapsible bottle would go flat when you try to immerse it, with the air being pushed out rather than replaced by water). You need a pour-over spot on a creek to fill a soft bottle or dromedary. I like having a hard-sided bottle to drink from in camp, anyway.
I absolutely LOVE my Gossamer Gear Mariposa. It hits the mark for me with the organization available in the multiple pockets. I likely will never be a true ultra light packer.
Thanks for sharing that, Becky.
In practice, an Ultralight backpacker is never going to be carrying a first day 3 season load out with consumables heavier than 25-27 pounds. That’s why packs like the ones listed here are generally found to be overbuilt, and too heavy for ultralight backpacking. A 35 pound load capacity (like most of the packs listed here have) isn’t necessary for ultralight backpacking, and the extra weight from the pack itself is a major obstacle in getting at or below a 10 pound baseweight.
The other consideration for an aspiring ultralighter is that the capacity of these packs is far too large for an ultralight kit; even accounting for a 5-6 day food carry (without a bear can). A sub-30 litre internal capacity with an additional 10 litres external capacity is usually the right amount of space. Anything bigger than that can present compression problems, which leads to loose gear moving around while hiking, which is bad.
There is a class of framed, genuinely ultralight packs being made right now by KS Ultralight, Atom Packs, SWD, LiteAF, and a few others. If your kit is sitting at or around a 12 pound baseweight, investing in a genuinely ultralight pack is going to get you closer to that covered 10 pound baseweight, and is worth the lead time wait.
If you go with one of the packs listed in this article, you’re pretty much guaranteed to stay stuck in the “lightweight” (11-15lbs) baseweight category. It’s difficult to lug a 2+lbs pack around and achieve an ultralight baseweight.
Thanks for the comment. I agree that dedicated ultralight backpackers will not likely ever carry a pack weighing more than about 25 pounds (and 30 pounds max), and do not need a two-pound pack if their base weight is under 10 pounds. But there are packs covered in this review that are widely considered ultralight packs. I’ve included some models that weigh over two pounds because, as written above, of their versatility for lightweight backpacking, too. My intent is to help backpackers across a wider range of interests and pack weights than just dedicated ultralighters.
I agree Mike. We generally have to go from A to B to C, not A to C. In my case, that’s moving from a 35 pound loaded pack to a 20 pound loaded pack for a 3 nighter. Thats probably A to B. I’ll get to C some time but currently pretty happy about being at B!
True words, Tom.
I always appreciate an article about ultralight pack options, BUT all of your suggestions were mainstream vendors with weights 30+ oz. there are a tremendous number of options within the 15-20 oz range from great cottage vendors like SWD, MLD, LiteAF and others. Wondering why these options were ignored?
Thanks for the question. You’ll see it’s one I have discussed in response to other comments below. You’re correct that the packs I’ve spotlighted all weigh around two pounds or more because they are internal frame packs. The packs from brands you’ve noted that weigh 15-20 ounces are frameless packs. The presence or absence of a supportive internal frame has defined that weigh differential since frameless packs were first mass produced more than two decades ago.
As I write under the Ultralight Packs Defined section of this story (above), frameless packs are very minimalist, with a comfortable carrying capacity of about 20 pounds and 25 pounds at best, and that assumes the user is very diligent about loading the pack to achieve optimal distribution of weight. A frameless pack with a lightly padded hipbelt essentially hangs off your back, requiring your back and shoulders to bear the weight.
I prefer ultralight packs with some kind of frame structure, like those in this review, because they distribute the pack’s weight in a way that your body can carry more comfortably for hours on the trail, day after day.
A frameless pack can work for an ultralighter whose base pack weight is under 10 to 12 pounds. For anyone carrying a total pack weight over 20 pounds, I recommend a pack with an internal frame.
Hope that answers your question. Thanks for the comment.
It’s disappointing to see that list and ZPacks UL packs are excluded. I just finished an 88 mile, 8 night, 9 day trip with the ArcHaul 65. It was loaded to 34.4 lbs day one. I walked out with 12 lbs and no food a little over a week later. The pack performed exceptionally well. Better than any osprey or Gregory pack I’ve ever used. Stupid light (22oz) with more than enough room, yet easy enough to compress as the trip went on. I’ve spent decades on the trail and I’m more impressed with this pack than I have ever been with one. Highly suggest.
Thanks, Aaron, I appreciate the suggestion. I’ve had ZPacks on my radar for a while and I’ll take a close look at the ArcHaul 65. If I test it in the backcountry, I will post a review of it. In general, look for more reviews of ultralight backpacks at my blog.
Keep in touch.
Do you have any experience with LiteAF packs?!
Hi Tucker, no, I have not used the LiteAF packs. I have noticed them and they do look interesting, and quite similar to the Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs in design and materials. I like the LiteAF a la carte system for ordering a pack, which does apparently require a wait time while they build your pack. I wonder about its comfort compared to the HMG 3400 Windrider, which I mention in this article and reviewed here, and it looks like you may get a better value from the 3400 Windrider, depending on which features you want added to the LiteAF 46L Curve Full Suspension Custom Pack. But again, I haven’t hiked in one yet.
Good luck, thanks for the question. Please add any thoughts you have if you’ve used one of the LiteAF packs.
I have been testing the LiteAF 35L Curve Fast Track Pack throughout the winter here in Tahoe. The plan was to thru-hike the Trans-Catalina Trail for a true test at the end of March, but the world had other ideas. Nevertheless, it has exceeded my expectations as my trusted pack for guiding snowshoe hikes here all winter.
As another of your commenters mentioned below, this specific design is rated for about 20 pounds, but I definitely doubled that on at least one day trip this winter. Carrying gear for clients ends up boosting your pack weight a bit and, while I wouldn’t want to carry 40-45 pounds in this pack on a multi-day hike, it performed very well for a four-hour day hike with the added weight.
I was initially skeptical that it didn’t include a hip belt, but the way they’ve designed the shoulder straps really does wonders to keep the pack weight close to your body’s center of gravity. Overall, I’d say that experienced thru-hikers should definitely look into LiteAF packs. You’ll need to have your kit really dialed down, but the ability to customize your pack order (as you mention) is a great service for those that just can’t seem to find a pack on the market that is manufactured with all of the features and specs they’re looking for.
Thanks for sharing those detailed observations from your experience with the LiteAF 35L Curve Fast Track Pack. The company’s sales model has some appeal, as you say. I’ll keep an eye on this brand and may find an opportunity to test and review one of their packs.
Keep in touch, I appreciate the feedback.
2lbs is not ultralight. Check out zpacks and leave all the others behind.
Hi Bill, Zpacks is worth a close look. But reference my exchange of comments with Glen, below, for my observations about frameless packs, which are the only packs that weigh under two pounds.
Thanks for the article. Consider checking out the cottage company Lite AF. I love my Curve 35. No frame so you wouldn’t want to go over 20 lbs, but the product is awesome.
I enjoyed your well-researched article. What are your thoughts on the Gossamer Gear G4-20, 25 oz. (1 lb. 9 oz.), 42L roll-top backpack with carrying capacity of 25-30 lbs.? What are your feelings on how it compares to Osprey Exos 38, for instance? I currently own an Osprey 4 lb. 5 oz., 60 L Volt and am looking to shed weight for 4-5 day section hikes on the AT.
Thanks for that question, Glen. While I have not used the Gossamer Gear G4-20, I have used frameless packs from other brands that employ the same basic design, like some of the early GoLite ultralight packs; I used one of them on a seven-day thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, and we had our base pack weight (everything but food and water) at under 15 pounds.
Frameless packs are very minimalist, and I think 25 to 30 pounds is an optimistic expectation for its comfortable carrying capacity. I’d put it at 20 pounds, maybe 25 pounds at best, and that assumes the user is very diligent about loading the pack to achieve optimal distribution of weight and keeping hard or sharp objects from poking into the thin, flexible back pad. A frameless pack with a lightly padded hipbelt (that also has no structure) does not support weight, it essentially hangs on your back, requiring your back and shoulders to bear the weight, however it may be distributed.
I prefer ultralight packs with some kind of frame structure, like those in this review, including the Exos series, that will distribute the pack’s weight in a way that your body can carry more comfortably for hours on the trail, day after day. A frame helps shift the large part of a pack’s weight onto your hips, which is far more comfortable than having weight hang against your shoulders. I think many people would notice the difference, especially with more than 20 pounds in the pack.
I also noticed that the G4-20 sizes each span four inches of torso length; that’s about as broad a fit range as you’ll see in a non-adjustable pack. If your torso falls in the middle of the range, it may fit you very well, but torsos at the top or bottom of the range may find the fit less than optimal.
Otherwise, I do like the general design of the G4-20, which is similar to others in this review, like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider, which does carry 30 pounds or more comfortably.
Short answer: If your pack weight maxes out at 20 pounds, or maybe 25 pounds, and/or you’re very fit and not bothered by the inherent comfort and support limitations of a frameless pack, the G4-20 may work great for you. Personally, I’ll accept the nominal additional weight of a frame in a backpack for the better comfort and greater weight-carrying capacity, which has the additional benefit that I can also use it on trips where I’m necessarily carrying 25 to 30 or 35 pounds.
Hope that’s helpful. Good luck.
Many thanks for your experience, Michael. I can get my base weight under 20 pounds, but with food um…, I agree, it’s not worth being uncomfortable. I tried a weighted Exos and it was like carrying air. I didn’t care so much about the loss of hip pockets as I carry snacks, phone, etc. in my cargo pants pockets. Though I wish other brands offered a quick-stow system for trekking poles that didn’t require having to doff my pack. The Exos cover flap is an improvement, but still not as good as a roll top closure for reducing/compressing the pack size on the trail.
Oh well, we’ll just have to wait until someone “perfects” a pack. Ha. Thanks again for the great article.
You’re welcome, Glen, and I appreciate the thoughtful question. With somewhere between 20 and 30 pounds in your pack, or maybe even more at times, I believe you will enjoy your trips much more if you’re carrying a pack with a frame. I’ve used the Exos quite a bit, both the newest version and the previous generation, and it’s a fine backpack. There are others in this review also worth considering, and fit has a big impact on comfort. Good luck and keep in touch.
Last November (2018) I ‘downsized’ from my beloved custom made McHale to a HMG Southwest 4400. Close to the same volume 70 litres but more than five pounds lighter. The suspensions are similar with a pretty basic but very effective hip belt. The 4400 does not have load lifters which I have not missed. Adapting to the roll top vs a lid or brain has proven easy with the big pockets. I did add two water bottle holsters as I prefer them over bladders.
I have now done close to 50 day hikes up to about to 7 hours with 35-40 lbs. the HMG is performing amazingly. I love the simplicity and adjustability of the simple bag and roll top. I also use the HMG Pods which are more space efficient than stuff sacks. And after 7 hours in a constant West Coast ‘rain hike’ there was not a drop of moisture inside. Plus no rain cover to deal with.
I prefer packs that snug to my body. Yes I perspire under the pack but the system works. I have tried the air suspension systems from Osprey, Deuter and Gregory, the new Arc’teryx Bora. I can’t find a comfortable fit and constantly like I am being pulled backwards.
HMG, in my view, have a winning formula.
Thanks for that report, John. As you probably know but for the benefit of other readers, the 2400 Southwest uses the same basic design of the 3400 Windrider that I review in this article, and has the volume for lightweight backpacking trips. An awesome pack. Keep posting your reports, and thanks for that.
When it comes to backpacks on hiking, I would recommend Osprey Atmos 65 because of its capacity and durableness. Its price is affordable also.
Thank you for your suggestion and please keep it up.
Thanks for the suggestion, Lisa. I’m a fan of the older Atmos 65, which was lighter, as well as the newest update of the Atmos, the Atmos 65 AG. However, that pack is a bit heavier now and really built for carrying heavier loads. That’s why it and the women’s Aura 65 AG are on my list of The 10 Best Packs for Backpacking (https://thebigoutside.com/gear-review-the-10-best-packs-for-backpacking/). I prefer a lighter pack for thru-hiking or any ultralight or lightweight backpacking.
I’ve got the Talon 44 & Stratos 34. Love both, but am looking for something alittle bigger for some really long hikes. I still want light as I can get tho. Just tried on both the Exos 58 and Atmos AG 65 at the local EMS. The Atmos felt better with more weight compared to the Exos, which makes sense. But I really dug the way both felt. My only gripe with the Atmos is that I hit my head on the metal frame whenever I tilted my head back even alittle bit. I’m a big guy. 6’4″ & 230lbs so I tried on the large. The Exos frame didn’t hit my head at all when looking up. But I loved the way the Atmos hugged my body and carried heavier loads like nothing. So I’m torn. Get the Exos & be able to look up. Lol. Or get the Atmos and be able to carry more better. Hmm.
Hi Regan, I understand your dilemma, the Atmos AG 65 and Exos 58 are certainly both great packs, but for different purposes. Besides deciding based on how each fits your torso, I think your question comes down to how much weight you intend to usually carry: 30 pounds or less? Go with the Exos. 40 to 50 pounds? You want the Atmos. I suggest you know the weight of your usual gear, food, etc., before making that decision.
I used the Exos 58 on the Camino de Santiago last April- GREAT PACK!
Yes, Edward, I’m sure it was excellent for the Camino. I’ve heard really good things about that trek.